The State Of The Late Night Union

The State Of The Late Night Union

Remember when late night television featured the battle royale between Leno and Letterman?

The TV landscape was much different then, and so was late night TV in general. Jay Leno and David Letterman spent more than a decade fighting for ratings supremacy, with Leno typically coming out ahead.

Every viewer mattered, and the hosts feared alienating anyone who might give them another ratings point.

Today, the field is larger and the goal isn’t just a ratings victory. It’s all about disseminating Democratic talking points. And, in that regard, “The Late Show” still reigns supreme.

Stephen Colbert vaulted over Leno’s “Tonight Show” heir Jimmy Fallon during the Trump presidency, and he hasn’t looked back. He’s the most authentic progressive on late night, a true believer with the power of CBS corporate behind him. That, and a cavalcade of A-list stars dropping by his New York-based studio, leaves him at the top of the ratings heap.

The far-Left adores him, and Colbert does nothing to threaten that bond. He’ll jump on any fake news headline, especially if it means smiting the GOP. Along the way, Colbert ignores the gaffe-tastic Biden administration night after night, targeting the 79-year-old with a few old age gags before “destroying” Tucker Carlson or Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL). 

And his competitors are only too happy to follow suit.

President Biden’s “senior moments” rarely draw snickers, nor do Vice President Kamala Harris’ word salad speeches.

Except a new kid on the block threatens Colbert’s crown. And, on select weeks, the Fox News superstar dons it himself.

Greg Gutfeld joined the late-night ranks in 2021, and he swiftly became the second-most popular show in that time slot. “Gutfeld!” unabashedly leans to the Right, giving half the country a late-night program all its own.

At last.

No major platform or broadcast studio had offered the choice, leaving it to Fox News to shake up the late-night landscape as it has done with network news since its 1996 debut.

And “Gutfeld!” seems here to stay, without A-list guest stars or the budgets other networks can deliver. His audience is growing, and he attracts a surprising number of younger viewers.

He routinely beats Fallon’s “Tonight Show,” which is now a consistent fourth place finisher according to The show Johnny Carson made a late-night institution is now a pale imitation of its former self, ratings wise.

Fallon, pushed to the Left after media bullies pounced on him for tousling President Donald Trump’s hair, attempts a more mainstream comedy showcase. When political or cultural matters flare up, though, Fallon is just as liberal as the rest of the pack.

Jimmy Kimmel, another authentically progressive comic, similarly chased away GOP viewers in recent years. “Not good riddance, but riddance,” is how Kimmel sees his transformation from “Man Show” host to DNC puppeteer.

That stance leaves Kimmel as a consistent third-place finisher, albeit one whispering about leaving his long-running platform.

Many credit Jon Stewart for reinventing the late night liberal wheel in recent years. Stewart’s long-running “Daily Show” aped the traditional news format with a bigger left-wing tilt, and that template spread across Hollywood. Stewart hung up his mic in 2015, leaving newbie Trevor Noah behind the Comedy Central mic.

Noah learned on the fly and for a time had earned the media’s respect. His recent ratings fall, however, has been considerable. He’s often beaten by most of his peers, a fact most media outlets choose to ignore.

HBO delivers a double dose of late-night comedy, but one show offers a shocking dash of balance. Yes, the host of “Real Time with Bill Maher” is a reliable progressive, but he routinely shreds his own party along with the new woke agenda.

Audiences are responding to Maher’s new approach. His ratings routinely trump fellow progressive John Oliver over at “Last Week Tonight,” perhaps due to Maher networking with right-leaning folks like Adam Carolla and Daily Wire Editor Emeritus Ben Shapiro.

Oliver remains a rock-ribbed liberal, and his weekly showcase allows a deeper dive into his partisan posturing.

James Corden (“The Late Late Show”) and Seth Meyers (NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers”) sit in the middle of the ratings pack, with Corden snagging more viewers and leaning less on Democratic talking points. Corden interestingly just announced he’s leaving the late-night game, taking his signature “Carpool Karaoke” segment with him.

Samantha Bee may the angriest, most overtly partisan host on late night today. And that’s saying something. It may, however, be the only point on which she demonstrates any lead.

She’s cursed out Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), slammed Governor Ron DeSantis as a racist and infamously called former-First Daughter Ivanka Trump the “c-word.”

What does the host of TBS’s “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” get for her potty mouth? Last place. A recent telecast drew just 178,000 viewers.

The newer late-night hosts don’t play directly into the ratings picture. They still share uniformly progressive views no matter the platform. Showtime’s “Desus & Mero” admittedly self-censor to avoid the woke mob, but they shouldn’t bother. The duo shares progressive talking points regularly so they’ll never be targeted for cancellation.

Showtime’s most recent talk show entry, “Ziwe,” embraces identity politics and other woke bromides, but it’s unclear if the talker is making a ratings impact.

Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.